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Sixers vs. Bucks Preview: Jabari Parker returns to starting lineup vs. Sixers, MCW out

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JABARI BACK

The December 15, 2014 Bucks-Suns game in Phoenix should not have been the last game of Jabari Parker's rookie season. Alas, fate -- and the ACL in Jabari's left knee -- felt otherwise.

Thankfully, 324 days later, Parker is finally ready to do what he does best. He may not start immediately, and he won't play big minutes, but he will play basketball tonight, and regardless of the outcome that is something for Bucks fans to celebrate (in whatever funny, bizarre, and awesome way we choose...exhibit A below).

Parker reportedly has been getting reps with the starting unit over the past week, so it's possible he could start as soon as tonight. If not, don't expect him to come off the bench for long, even if he will be limited to 15-20 minutes initially. While Jerryd Bayless went all gangbusters as a starting shooting guard in Brooklyn, we all know the Bucks want to be running with Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Greg Monroe as soon as possible.

UPDATE: Jabari (with sleek new haircut) will start tonight alongside Bayless, Middleton, Giannis and Monroe.

The feel-good stuff aside, taking care of business will be job one tonight, as the Bucks look to build on their win in Brooklyn by condemning the Sixers to (hopefully) their fourth loss in as many games. While Parker and Tyler Ennis (shoulder) have been cleared to return tonight, John Henson (sore Achilles) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) are still listed as "out" in the Bucks' game notes while MCW is doubtful with what the team is calling a strained left ankle. He picked up the injury in the waning seconds of Monday's win, though afterwards he suggested it wasn't a major concern.

MCW's injury would presumably open the door for either Bayless to move over from the two or the struggling Greivis Vasquez to start, while Ennis might actually see minutes at PG -- something I wouldn't expect to happen if the Bucks are healthy. Note that Vasquez is shooting just 18.5% overall and just 1/13 from deep this season, though he's also averaging a team-best 8.1 assists per 36. I imagine many would disagree, but I'd probably prefer to throw Vasquez a bone given a) history suggests he won't keep missing for long and b) his ability to move the ball figures to be more useful with the starters. But what do I know?

While Parker's contributions may be limited, the Bucks likely won't need much from him so long as Monroe and Antetokounmpo continue their recent hot streaks. Giannis has averaged 22.7 points and scored 20+ points in each of his three games -- the first such streak of his career -- while grabbing nearly nine rebounds per game and posting a 67% true shooting mark. If those numbers are remotely indicative of what he does the rest of the year, then good lord will this be a fun year. Meanwhile, Monroe has been as advertised and then some, scoring 20.3 points and nabbing 9.5 rebounds while hitting 62% of his shots from the field. I wouldn't bank on either guy putting up those numbers over a whole season, but anything in the ballpark will do.

Sixers Scouting Report

Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Nerlens Noels and Jahlil Okafor.

Those names are the only ones that really matter in Philly these days; Joel Embiid will if he can ever get on a basketball court (possibly next year?), but for now the Sixers' future is most clearly tied to its young starting frontcourt tandem, with everyone else on the roster mostly just auditioning for a supporting role.

Okafor has been an immediate impact player in the post, averaging an eye-popping 20 points per game on 51% shooting over his first three contests. Now he just needs to refine all the other aspects of his game -- he's averaging a guard-like 5.3 rebounds while posting two assists and 11 turnovers over that span. That was the book on Okafor going into the draft as well, so expect it to be a long-term issue to watch. Expect Monroe and Okafor to attach each other plenty in the early going.

Noel's in many ways the polar opposite of Okafor: scoring is the one area where he doesn't project extremely well, and the first week of the season hasn't suggested anything different. He's averaging 10 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, but his 12 points per game have come on 37% shooting from the field. Still, it's early.

Otherwise, summer trade acquisition Nik Stauskas is starting and looking more like the guy the Kings thought they were getting when they picked him eighth overall in 2014. He's averaged 13.5 points on 68% true shooting in two games since returning from a leg injury, a welcome sign especially considering that starting small forward Robert Covington re-injured his knee yesterday during practice.

The Sixers' point guard position also remains decidedly, uh, fluid, with incumbent Isaiah Canaan neither shooting (29% overall, 31% from three) nor passing (1.7 assists) with any effectiveness over the first week of the season. Meanwhile, rookie free agent/stereotypical scrappy white guy T.J. McConnell is making a major push for the starting spot, averaging 9.4 assists and 2.8 steals per contest. He doesn't shoot, but at least he's doing other stuff -- Wisconsin fans may recall him from the Arizona teams that UW beat in the last two NCAA tournaments.

Longer term, former Buck Kendall Marshall should also have a shot at the position, though he likely won't return from the torn ACL he suffered as a Buck until late this month. For reference, his injury came one month after Jabari's, so his timeline is looking rather similar. Tony Wroten is in a similar boat, having partially torn his ACL in late January and not expected back until December.

On the SixersLiberty BallersPhiladunkia

15/16 NBA Season

(0-3, 0-1 road)
vs.
(1-3, 0-2 home)
November 4, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Isaiah Canaan PG Jerryd Bayless
Nik Stauskas SG Khris Middleton
Hollis Thompson SF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nerlens Noel PF Jabari Parker
Jahlil Okafor C Greg Monroe
15/16 Advanced Stats
95.7 (23rd) Pace 93.9 (27th)
92.6 (30th) ORtg 106.4 (8th)
110.7 (26th) DRtg 117.6 (30th)